Slidegenius, Inc.

The Overwhelmed Creative Team: A Cautionary “Design Ops” Tale

Back in 2011, fresh out of college, I worked for an advertising agency in New York City as an account manager.

It was one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had.

One of my responsibilities was overseeing the creation of my clients’ pitch decks, which — unsurprisingly — weren’t considered “mission critical” deliverables for the creative team.

There was never time to be idle; we were always on the go, brainstorming, producing content, and running to client meetings. The job was stressful but we were fortunate to have the right people that were easy to work with, passionate, and fun.

Over the next year though, the team began to thin. Some members left for bigger opportunities, others were poached by competing agencies, and some even started their own businesses.

Eventually, most of our veterans in the creative department were gone and the empty seats were filled with junior art directors and copywriters. 

I remember being worried about how things would unfold without some of the key employees I had come to rely on. Everyone had to step up. 

And for a while, everything ran smoothly. But as the agency grew and workloads increased, our internal design processes began to break down.

The creative team — consisting mostly of junior employees — were overwhelmed with pitch deck projects. At one point, they were unable to handle one of the decks assigned to them.

I remember it like it was yesterday…

As the account manager, I had to keep things moving and decided to just make the deck myself. 

Never did I think creating the PowerPoint deck would stress me out. After all, I’d used the tool for years to present my school reports and projects. The pre-loaded animations were there for the choosing and I knew I could find some cool-looking pre-designed templates somewhere online and simply visit YouTube for “design hack” tutorials.

Boy was I wrong.

See, the problem is that we’ve all worked with PowerPoint for years (even decades) and we trick ourselves into thinking we know enough.

Think about that for a moment.

That’s basically saying because we’ve driven cars since we were 16 years old, we feel comfortable with how the machine works.

In reality, most of us only know how to get from Point A to Point B (in most cases), and keep ourselves comfortable along the way.

We don’t know how to make the car more fuel efficient, or give it more horsepower to make it faster, or how to adjust the shocks for more on-road comfort or off-road capability—things that would undoubtedly benefit us in our week-to-week (depending on one’s lifestyle of course).

Instead, we use the same vehicle in its original configuration until it’s time to move on—because that’s what we’re used to.

If you think about it, that’s basically the same as downloading a pre-designed template that appears suitable, uploading content, and then hitting the proverbial gas pedal.

I felt I knew enough about PowerPoint to make the pitch deck acceptable.

Let’s be clear: when the goal for any project is “acceptable,” it’s safe to assume—in this day and age—it probably won’t move any needles in the right direction.

To no-one’s surprise, I came up with an almost plain deck with cheesy animations. You know, your typical box-in, appear, dissolve-type effects—stuff that causes Death by PowerPoint and makes you look old.

Fortunately, my presentation skills were good enough to outshine my unoriginal slides and the materials my creative team came up with were downright beautiful. 

But just seeing how the deck came out was a humbling experience. It was definitely something I was not proud of. I used to be so giddy presenting with the spectacular decks that our creative team came up with, but for this presentation, my deck was as good as just writing on the board with a marker

Heck, a whiteboard session might have even been more engaging than what I came up with. What’s worse is I could’ve had more hours to sleep and focus on what I was going to say rather than spend so much time on the deck.

The lesson here is pretty clear: we aren’t necessarily experts when we’ve done something many times, and just knowing “enough” is never good enough in high stakes environments like sales presentations, boardroom meetings, and keynote speeches (among others).

Whether you’re guiding a prospect through a product demo, trying to garner buy-in in the boardroom, or announcing upcoming products at your company’s annual internal conference, your ability to achieve the goals you set out to accomplish with your presentation rests on four key factors: 

1) Your presentation skills (obviously)

2) The narrative of your presentation

3) The design quality of your visual aid (typically a PowerPoint deck), and

4) MOST IMPORTANTLY: your audience’s level of engagement

Thankfully, I had the first one—but imagine what my team could have accomplished if we had all four!

Raising Capital? Consider a Scrolling Web Pitch!

Raising capital is complicated. There are a lot of pieces to put together, including selling your audience, knowing your valuation, how much capital you need, use of funds and much, much more.

The initial hurdle for countless companies comes at the intersection where entrepreneurs and investors meet. Entrepreneurs often stumble building their investment deck and effectively pitching which makes it that much harder to get people to give you the capital. Investors must believe in you and your abilities to manage and grow a company. The problem is that showing who you are and what you’re capable of can be difficult let alone doing it in a 10-15 minute window.

For that reason you need to put your heart and soul into the pitch, but not just the content, also the delivery. What does a perfect pitch look like, you ask? That is a matter of opinion and you’ll never see the “perfect pitch deck”, but recently its all about presenting your company in a unique way to stand out from the crowd.  One additional option you may consider is a scrolling web pitch. Scrolling web pitches incorporate a unique scrolling technique that allow the presenter to replace the generic professional PowerPoint click-by-click slides with an interactive, more organic and lively design.  This is not meant to be a replacement for the face to face PowerPoint pitch but a reinforcement and/or teaser to get the meeting.  Here are 4 reasons why you need to use scrolling web designs for you next investor presentation:

Keep Content Up to Date

In using a scrolling web pitch, you are making any future edits or updates to your text as easy as can be. This design simplifies the process and maximizes your use of time.

Stand Out from the Crowd and be unique

Most people email their large, boring and lifeless PowerPoint presentations to prospective investors, but it really doesn’t make sense to do that. Without context from the entrepreneur you’ll risk a misinterpreted message or worse they might not even move past the first three slides.  Treat you pitch with respect. Why be dull and lifeless when you can be unique, creative and memorable?

Monitor page analytics/views and keep consistency

Data, data, data! Being able to keep your pitch up to date online and get analytics will help you assess the effectiveness of your deck. Additionally, you’ll have created another venue to market in. A great scroll web pitch will be able to sell itself without you being there, so any viewer could potentially bite in your concept.

Create more interest and leads

Analytics and views lead to increased interest and leads. Garnering and extrapolating public interest in your concept will serve as evidence to any potential investors as quality and a great opportunity.

Think of it as PowerPoint presentation Darwinism: evolve your presentation or have it die. Though raising capital may be intimidating, challenging, and maybe seemingly impossible at times, the process starts with how you present yourself to people.

We’ve created an example of a scroll web pitch that you can see here.

If you have any questions or comments about scroll pitches just comment them on this post?

Dress to Impress : How to Deliver a Successful Presentation


Recent research concludes that all great presenters are born with a very specific mutation in their DNA that allows them to connect with their audiences every time.

Obviously false. Great presenters are simply people who have practiced enough that they are confident in themselves. A successful presentation requires constant coordination of content, delivery and audience interaction.  Proper content, delivery and audience interaction, along with confidence and passion are root from one single trait, preparation. Would you go out naked and dirty? No, you shower, dress up, and look good; same goes for your PowerPoint presentation.

Presenters commonly overlook proper preparation. The fact of the matter is, preparing powerpoint slides isn’t just making the deck look good. You need to prepare yourself, your clothes, your speaking volume and speed and even your audience. There are 3 tools to make sure you are preparing the right way for your presentation:

1. Know Yourself

Giving presentations is very similar to telling a story, and having personal anecdotes is a great way to improve your audience retention.  Audiences remember stories better than anything! Why? Because they can relate to every story in some way, so use that connection to your advantage.


“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

-Colin Powell


2. Know Your Audience

Whether you’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker, pitch a venture, or talk to preschoolers, the first step is to research your audience. Knowing the audience provides you with information necessary to craft an effective, well received presentation. Things to focus on are: audiences’ level of sophistication in the topic you’re presenting on, holistic objectives and common topics of interest. Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s once said, “If you don’t know your audience, you are pretty much guaranteed to fail. Your presentation could be too rudimentary, too advanced or completely off topic without understanding the core audience.” That is all.

3. Know Your CTA

Three words: Call-to-Action. This is what you leave your audience with. After the introductions, stories, laughs, or whatever you do, lies the most essential part of your PowerPoint presentation design, the next step. This is where you highlight the purpose of your presentation. What do you want your audience to do next? Give you CTA the time and energy it deserves, which I will say, should be A LOT! Check out our article all about Calls-to-Action.

Aftermath

It’s Not Over Yet! After you’ve finished speaking, it’s the perfect time to finalize your relationship with the audience. Giving a presentation creates a unique opportunity to build your brand, so take advantage of it. Lastly, be sure to get feedback from attendees and event organizers so that you can make your next presentation even more effective and memorable!

 

Work Cited: http://mashable.com/2012/02/03/improve-business-presentation/

10 Words to Cut From Your Presentations


Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “Never use two words when one will do.”

Dr. Seuss, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Bill Gates all had an underlying focus on simplicity in their work. Simple ideas by definition are easier to understand and are therefore more likely to be successful. Most presenters focus on shoving as much information possible in their PowerPoint presentations, but the fact of the matter is, the less you say, the more your audience will understand. That doesn’t mean cut parts out; it means simplify every part as much as possible. This process should be utilized for both the written text within the deck, and the words that you are saying. The best way to get started with simplification is to learn to avoid certain “fluff” words.

Aim to make your writing and presenting more powerful, so here are 10 words you should start avoiding:

1. Got

Using “got” wastes valuable opportunities to use specificity and effectively describe your work process. Got is a highschooler’s word that serves no purpose in a professional PowerPoint presentation.

2. Just

The word “just” is a useless filler word (unless being used in the context of something being just or unjust) that elongates your writing for no reason and wastes times. Wasting time is the same as saying decreasing focus and interest from the audience.

3. Really

Using the word “really” is very common and almost seemingly natural within verbal conversations. It’s a type of verbal emphasis that doesn’t translate well into text. Despite its popularity in conversation, it’s unnecessary, and should, therefore, be cut

4. Then

“I talked to the customer then she yelled at me then I realized what I needed to change then I told my team.” You see how annoying and wasteful the word “then” can be? Cut it!

5. Maybe

The last characteristic you want to give off to your audience is uncertainty. When you use words like “maybe” and “perhaps,” uncertainty is exactly what you’re communicating. If you lack confidence in any aspect of your service or product, why should I be confident in it?

6. Um

When someone uses “um,” he or she either immediately shows three things: uncertainty, lack of confidence, and lack of professionalism. “Um” is worse than filler words because it not only shows that you are wasting time, but it shows you’re nervous. Cut it!

7. Literally

Regardless if something is true in a literal sense, you still don’t have to add the word “literally.” Only in an attempt to explain you aren’t joking when it seems you are, is it beneficial to use this word.

8. Amazing

This word is used to describe so many levels of quality that it is now virtually useless. Use more specific words to describe the great quality of whatever you’re talking about.

9. Things

Much like “stuff” “things” is vague and useless.

10. Stuff

“Stuff” is casual, vague, and consequently a waste of time. Description and specificity are powerful when used tacitly.

All in all, I’m trying to help you cut the fillers, get rid of the “fluff”, and make your writing and presenting stronger. The best way to achieve that goal is to start with a tangible next step. That step should be to avoid these 10 words at any cost.

Check out our Webinar for ON24 :Teaching the Importance of Simplicity

 

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SlideGenius Founder and CEO Rick Enrico spoke last Thursday on the importance of simplicity in presentation design as a part of ON24’s very first installment of its Webinar Academy.

To view the webinar, titled, “Avoiding Information Overload: The Importance of Simplicity in Presentation Design,” do the quick, 1-minute registration here and view the entire webinar series created by ON24, a leading virtual communications company. Along with Rick’s, you’ll find several other Webinars that have a lot to teach about presenting in the digital age.

on24_logo

While most presentations designed by SildeGenius are given in person, the attention ON24 is giving to Webinars is indicative of a growing trend toward Internet-based presenting and how this is expanding our scope of how we can reach an audience. By viewing our webinar, you’ll see that all the key elements of an effective PowerPoint presentation are still there, but coupled with it is the ability to reach millions of people at the click of a button by creating your presentation online.

Extreme Presenting: An Example from Ted Cruz

Amid the craze of the government shutdown fueled by heated debate inside our federal government, one almost unbelievable phenomenon was the 21-hour filibuster by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

For those needing a U.S. history reminder, a filibuster is essentially when an elected official prevents anyone in his legislative body from voting by refusing to end the debate, usually, by hogging the floor talking. It’s an age-old tactic in the politician’s playbook, dating all the way back to Ancient Rome, where Roman Senator Cato the Young would give long, drawn-out speeches until nightfall to foil the political maneuvers of Julius Caesar.

This strategy still thrives in today’s political landscape, and it’s gotten no less extreme. While Cruz’s 21-hour speech may seem unfathomable, there have been several other extreme examples in modern politics. But how do these politicians prepare for these dauntingly long presentations? Here’re a few famously employed tactics that have allowed politicians to remain at the podium long after hours.

 

Not to be crude, but to address many of us have probably wondered: How do these politicians not run off to the restroom after all these hours at the podium?  

There’s actually been a lot of unanswered questions surrounding this mystery, perhaps because it’s one we might not want the answer to.

wendy-davis3-e1372439462263Texas State Senator Wendy Davis reportedly donned a catheter during her 11-hour filibuster of an abortion bill earlier this year. The 50-year-old democrat also wore pink running shoes and a back brace to remain standing and speaking to block this legislation, a move that was apparently effective, resulting in the bill failing.

 

 

 

 

Steam baths?

strom
The longest filibuster by a lone senator occurred in 1957, when Strom Thurmond of North Carolina spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes, from 8:54 p.m. on August 28, 1957 and did not stop until 9:12 p.m. on the 29th, in an attempt to prevent the Civil Rights Act of 1957 from passing. In order to prepare for this insanely long speaking engagement, Thurmond took steam baths up until the day of his speech in order to dehydrate himself, “ridding himself of any access liquid.” While speaking, other senators purposefully asked lengthy questions in order for Thurmond to quickly take a break and gobble down a sandwich in the cloakroom before running back to the stage.

 

 

 

21 hours of things to say

I don’t care how good of a speaker you are, even my chattiest acquaintances would have Greeneggtrouble finding things to talk about for half that time. While Senator Cruz spoke primarily about the Affordable Care Act,  A.K.A. Obamacare, he made a few off-color references in order to keep his train of thought going, bringing in Darth Vader and even reciting the famous Dr. Seuss children’s book, “Green Eggs and Ham.”

 

 

 

 

My personal favorite filibuster?

Well, it’s not exactly real, but it’s the most entertaining to me. For those of you fellow Parks and Recreation fans, you might remember comedian Patton Oswalt guest starring on an episode this past season, where he ‘citizen filibustered’ the Pawnee City Council from amending its constitution.

The episode that aired only showed a small bit of what Oswald actually said. In reality, Oswald showed up, the show didn’t give him a script and just told him to “start talking.”

 

References:

Filibuster”. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Putting Your Presentation before Your PowerPoint.SlideGenius. December 9, 2013.

Root, Jay. “Ted Cruz Ends 2013 As He Began It: No Apologies.The Huffington Post. December 19, 2013.

4 Things to Avoid in Order to Gain Respect During a Presentation

Making a positive, memorable impression is an enormous aspect of professional presentations. However, when we’re up on stage–under the magnifying glass–we might not be cognizant of how we’re being perceived by the audience. Here’s a few very common tendencies people tend to fall into without realizing, and ironically these are often done as an attempt to be more likable and relatable.

 

1. Don’t Make Jokes at the Expense of Others

This is a very commonly used ploy to win over the majority of the crowd at the expense of its minority. However, anyone who’s respect you want will see through this. It’s a cheap trick you should not stoop down to. Humor is a great tool during a speech, but either make it constructive, or even better, make yourself the butt of the joke. As long as you’re not too harsh on yourself, this is a great way to be relatable to the audience.

 

2. Don’t Dumb Yourself Down

If you’re attempting to come off as more colloquial or conversational, be careful not to take it too far. Sure, you don’t want to be rigid or robotic, but talking to an audience the way you talk to your friends on a Saturday night won’t score you any points. dumb_a

This is a fine line to balance. You may have an intensely technical background, and you might have to present on a complex topic that goes along the same lines. In this case, where you might have to actually simplify your ideas a great deal in order to relate them to your audience, it’s important to be very cautious aobut the tone you’re using. As we all know, nothing is quite so infuriating as being spoken to like a five year old. Keep in mind that you’re presenting to a room full of professional, of fully grown adults who deserve to be spoken to as such. Don’t dumb down. Simplify.

 

3. Don’t show off with your vocabulary

On the contrary, don’t try to dazzle your audience with your faux-intellect by using as big of words as possible when showing your PowerPoint slides. Presenting is about communication and relating to your audience. Using unnecessary language might distract or confuse, and you’ll likely come off as obnoxious.

 

4. Don’t Fidget Nervouslywoody-allen

No one wants to watch Woody Allen squirm nervously on stage while when they’re looking to gain meaningful information in a business setting. Most likely if you don’t think about your posture, body movements and posture, then they’re probably not working toward your advantage. Make sure your movements are slow, meaningful and deliberate. The confidence you’ll exude in doing so will go a long way.

 

If you can’t tell what the overarching theme with all of this is, it’s that you should present yourself as well as possible, but don’t falsify your image because your audience will see right through it. Be yourself, but make sure you’re being the best version of yourself possible.

Acme Construction Uses SlideGenius for Huge Client Bid

Acme Construction is a California-based construction company with a knack for big projects. With an impressive history dating back to 1947–and more recently a couple high-end school and hospital extensions under their belt they were ready to go after what could potentially be the company’s biggest client to date (Details on the project off limits). acme2

Acme Construction was qualified for the project, but they needed a way to effectively visualize and present their expertise, experience, and capabilities, so they used SlideGenius to build them a deck based around the required criteria and interview questions for their project. SlideGenius was able to provide a complete, detailed picture of the company in a visually dynamic, high-impact presentation deck.

acme1When you need your company’s prowess to be known, don’t risk losing business because your potential client can’t tell how capable you are of the job. SlideGenius knows how to create presentations that make the sale by highlighting the most impressive aspects of your business in a dynamic way.
 

 

 

 

How to Think Like $5.99 and Not Like $6.00

Imagine you own a clothing store. Now you decide to begin a sale for that store. Let’s say a particular type of shorts usually costs $20 per short, but for the purposes of the sale you’re going to mark them down to $15 a piece.

There are two ways you could present that discount. The first would be as a percentage. Going from $20 to $15 would be 25% off. The second would be as an absolute number with $5 off. Which way is better?

Both discounts amount to the same final price. 25% off $20 and $5 off $20 both result in the customer paying $15 for the shorts. So both representations of the discount should have the same effect, right?

Wrong. Jonah Berger, author of Contagion, explains to us that the consumers find the 25% discount more attractive than the 5$ off. While the two discounts are the same economically, they don’t trigger the same psychological effect. One feels like a larger discount than the other.

Accordingly, the next time you’re reporting numerical information, pay attention to how you are presenting it. The way changes are represented can have a big impact on how they’re perceived.

Focus on the final number.

Like the story above, most people seemed to be more enticed by the offer when the discount number was larger. Rule of thumb would be whenever you are offering a discount under $100 display it as a percentage, and when the offer is greater than $100 display it as an absolute number. This will make sure you are always maximizing your psychological impact. Simpler is better. No one cares about a page of numbers and figures that look like the green screen display from the matrix. You need to simplify your results, and then simplify them again. Think of your raw data as a pile of freshly picked vegetables. People don’t want to eat them when they still have dirt and leave stems on them. People want a quick and painless way to stay healthy, so what do you do? You take those vegetables, clean them, cut them, put them in a blender and make a smoothie. Then you take that smoothie and turn it into a wheatgrass shot. Quick and to the point. So yes, your data should be reduced to the size of a wheatgrass shot! After all, the simpler your can represent your findings, the easier it will be for your audience to understand you, which will in turn make your call-to-action more successful.

Tell a story.

Everyone knows the best stories are the ones told with pictures, so use them. Portraying data graphically reveals patterns in the data that are hard to notice otherwise Visual depictions of data are almost universally understood without requiring knowledge of a language. It is also useful to alter your tone and speed as you approach the finding of any given graph. Much like when telling a story, the storyteller tends to get really excited toward the climax or “best part” of the story; it is not only useful but critical to draw attention to the most important features of the data.

I’ll leave you with Hans Rosling’s fascinating TED talk revolved around displaying data effectively, which you can watch here

 

References:

Berger, Jonah. “Fuzzy Math: What Makes Something Seem Like A Good Deal?linkedin. August 28, 2013.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Mapping Out the Path to Viral Fame.The New York Times. February 25, 2013.

Rosling, Hans. “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.ted.com. February 2006.

Fielding the Tough Questions in Presentations

The Q&A session has become a staple for almost any subject you will illuminate with a PowerPoint presentation. Oftentimes, this is a warmly welcomed opportunity for the presenter to clear up any points where the audience might be a bit fuzzy while going into more detail where audience members are interested.

However, as we all know or will eventually find out, presentations don’t always go exactly how we want them to, and sometimes we might face some tricky questions that catch us a little off guard, or intentionally antagonistic questions meant to incite an argument.

As the presenter–the person at the front of the room–you, by default, become the situation’s moderator. It’s up to you to keep the order in the room and the conversation civil and on topic. Most importantly, no matter how hard it may sometimes be, you should always strive to be the most mature, level-headed person in the room when you have the audience’s attention.

Stay on Topic

First off, don’t let audience questions derail your presentation. If appropriate for the topic and allotted time, set aside 5 to 15 minutes at the end of your presentation for a Q&A session. If audience members chime in during your presentation, politely ask them to wait until the end of your presentation.

If your audience refuses to listen to reason and grows unruly, we address that here.

 

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Topic

There may be a million other things you and your audience want to discuss, and they will likely make that apparent when given the opportunity to ask questions, but remember, you’re the one tasked with controlling the flow of the conversation.

Whenever engaging with an audience member, always be working the conversation (as naturally as possible) back toward the main point of your presentation. This way, you’re not wasting the time you’ve allotted to conveying your message.

 

ALWAYS take the high ground

keep-calm-and-keep-your-coolGetting visibly upset, agitated, or annoyed can strip any credibility you might have built up with your otherwise excellent presentation.

Similarly, even if an audience member really lobs one over the plate for you, don’t embarrass them for asking a stupid question. This may sound like your elementary school guidance counselor here, but although you may get a few laughs, anyone to be taken seriously will see your bullying as a sign of immaturity.

 

Take a deep breath before answering each question.

It’s common knowledge that our talking pace speeds up significantly when our adrenaline starts flowing, which happens often when we’re speaking in front of a crowd and our nerves are running high. breathe

Because of this, it’s easy for us to begin rambling when asked to speak off the cuff answering questions, so when you’re asked a question, even if it seems as simple as salt, pause, take a deep breath, and allow yourself a brief moment to formulate your response. You’ll find that this short pause will make your responses much more natural and articulate.

References:

“Keith Alexander Can Teach Us About Presenting to a Crowd.” SlideGenius. July 31, 2013.